Monday, March 2, 2009

Inseparability of Justification and Sanctification

Back in 2006, the OPC received and published its "Report on Justification." The purpose of the report was to “to critique the teachings of the ‘New Perspective on Paul,’ ‘Federal Vision,’ and other like teachings concerning the doctrine of justification and other related doctrines, as
they are related to the Word of God and our subordinate standards . . ." However, one of the features that I really like about the report is that prior to critiquing the novel proposals concerning the doctrine of justification, the report first puts forth a clear, positive biblical/confessional understanding of justification that has been the historic position of the OPC and the Reformed tradition.

In the justification debate that is currently taking place, one of the major areas of discussion relates to the relationship of justification and sanctification. I have included below a very helpful summary of this relationship from the OPC's "Report on Justification."

Now, since I am pulling this section out of the broader context, let me include a helpful footnote from page 58 (Report)/28 (Booklet) that is meant to help the reader know that in the discussion of justification and sanctification, it is progressive sanctification that is specifically in view and not definitive sanctification:
It is important to note here, and to keep in mind throughout the discussion that
follows, that the term “sanctification” here is being used in its traditional Reformed sense of a progressive, inward work of God’s Spirit making believers holy. This is the meaning used in the Westminster Standards: “Sanctification is the work of God’s
free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and
are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness” (WSC 35).
Some recent Reformed theologians have also spoken of a “definitive sanctification,”
indicating, with an appeal, e.g., to Rom 6:1–7:6, the believer’s once-for-all deliverance from being under the enslaving dominion of sin to being under the lordship of Christ and enslaved to righteousness; see John Murray, “Definitive Sanctification,” in Collected Writings, 2.277–93; and idem, Principles of Conduct: Aspects of Biblical Ethics (1957; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001), 202–28. This idea is not directly under discussion here. (emphasis mine)
Happy reading. If you enjoy this section and would like to read the whole thing (which I highly recommend) the OPC has bound it and made it available for the low cost of $7.50 here. As the report says for itself I reiterate here, "In the interests of maintaining the truths of the gospel and the purity, the peace, and the unity of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, the report is commended to you for study."

2. The Inseparability of Justification and Sanctification (pp. 59-63/28-30)

This quotation of WLC 77, though focusing upon the differences between justification and sanctification, also states that these blessings are “inseparably joined.” Gainsayers have constantly attempted to show the incompatibility of the biblical doctrine of justification with a genuine interest in the moral life. The apostle Paul already confronted and answered such
objections. Immediately after laying out the doctrine of justification in Rom 3–5, Paul faces his detractors: “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?” (6:1). Shortly thereafter, Paul asks a similar question: “What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace?” (6:15). In Galatians, one can again hear the challenge of the gainsayer in the background: “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh” (5:13). Does justification, with the grace and freedom that it bestows, make one indifferent to, or even encourage one to despise, the concern for holiness? Paul’s answer is “By no means!”94 (Rom 6:2, 15).

Part of the reason why this is true is rooted in the doctrine of union with Christ. Before the WLC and WSC address the saving blessings of effectual calling, justification, adoption, and sanctification, they affirm the union with Christ true of all believers (WLC 66; WSC 30). WLC 66 states: “The union which the elect have with Christ is the work of God’s grace, whereby they are
spiritually and mystically, yet really and inseparably, joined to Christ as their head and husband; which is done in their effectual calling.” Union with Christ underlies justification and sanctification and the other saving blessings, as WLC 69 goes on to explain: “The communion in grace which the members of the invisible church have with Christ, is their partaking of the virtue of his
mediation, in their justification, adoption, sanctification, and whatever else, in this life, manifests their union with him.”

Scripture teaches this doctrine that we are justified and sanctified in union with Christ and that, correspondingly, justification and sanctification manifest that union. We are “justified in Christ” (Gal 2:17). In regard to sanctification, “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom 6:4). Significantly, both of these passages just quoted fall in contexts in which Paul answers objections that his doctrines of justification and sanctification are incompatible. Justification and sanctification flow out of the same union with Christ. The one who is united with Christ must enjoy both justification and sanctification.

In addition to the doctrine of union with Christ, the idea of the ordo salutis makes clear that justification is prior to sanctification. This is not priority in the sense that one is somehow more important than the other. Neither is it a temporal priority, strictly speaking, for there is no such thing as a justified person who is not also being sanctified. But while justification is the necessary prerequisite of the process of sanctification, that process is not the necessary prerequisite of justification. It is true to say that one must be justified in order to be sanctified; but it is untrue to say that one must be sanctified in order to be justified. Justification and sanctification bear a relationship to each other that cannot be reversed.

Minimally, Scripture teaches that sanctification is not incompatible with a justification that comes by grace alone through faith alone. Paul, for example, after acknowledging the objection to his doctrine of justification in Rom 6:1, goes on to explain (6:2–7:6) that in fact those who by faith in Christ are united to him in his death and resurrection and so are no longer slaves to sin now live in newness of life, offering up their bodies as instruments of righteousness. Paul is clear that the grace of God in Christ that justifies also sanctifies and does not nullify sanctification, as the Reformed tradition has consistently affirmed.

Beyond this minimal perspective, however, Scripture and the Reformed tradition have made a stronger affirmation. It is not simply that justification is compatible with sanctification, but also that justification is necessary for sanctification. Reformed theologians have expressed this conviction in various ways. Calvin, for instance, when explaining why justification, “the principal
ground on which religion must be supported,” must be given such great care and attention, writes: “Unless you understand first of all what your position is before God, and what the judgment which he passes upon you, you have no foundation on which your salvation can be laid, or on which piety towards God can be reared.”95 Turretin comments: “Justification stands related to sanctification as the means to the end.”96

These claims rest upon solid biblical and theological considerations. Christ’s words in Luke 7:47, in regard to the sinful woman who anointed him at a Pharisee’s home, are on point: “Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” The fact that this woman loved much was the proof that her many sins had been forgiven. If her love was possible apart from the forgiveness that comes in justification, then Christ’s appeal to this evidence loses its force. Without the experience of forgiveness, there is no love; where there is love, one can be sure that there has been forgiveness. Perhaps Paul’s most powerful statement of this necessity of justification for sanctification is Gal 5:13: “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” Both Martin Luther (1483–1546) and John Calvin perceived the profundity of what Paul writes here, connecting Christian liberty, and thus justification, with sanctification.97 Earlier in Galatians, Paul has argued that it is only through justification by faith in Christ that one receives freedom—and thus Calvin rightfully calls the doctrine of Christian liberty “a proper appendix to Justification.”98 Following Paul’s lead, Calvin reflects upon why the Christian’s freedom, far from discouraging good works, in fact enables them. He writes:
“Being constantly in terror so long as they are under the dominion of the law, they are never disposed promptly to obey God, unless they have previously obtained this liberty”; and later: “How can unhappy souls set themselves with alacrity to a work from which they cannot hope to gain anything in return but cursing? On the other hand, if freed from this severe exaction, or rather from the whole rigour of the law, they hear themselves invited by God with paternal
lenity, they will cheerfully and alertly obey the call, and follow his guidance.”99 For Calvin, no one can hope to begin pursuit of the good works that God requires, nor in the way he requires, apart from the peace of conscience gained only in justification.

Also relevant to note is the relationship between faith and works. As discussed above, faith is unique and thus distinct from works. But the Westminster Standards also teach that good works are never absent where faith is present. Though WLC 73 wishes to emphasize that faith justifies as an instrument and not in any other way, it does speak of “those other graces which do always accompany it” and “of good works that are the fruits of it.” Likewise, WCF 16.2 states: “Good works, done in obedience to God’s commandments, are the fruits and evidences of a true and lively faith.” According to the Standards, therefore, good works must always accompany faith. Good works are the fruit and evidence of faith (though faith is not the fruit and evidence of
good works).

Paul affirms these truths in passages such as Gal 5:6, where he speaks of “faith working through love.” Likewise, James emphasizes that any genuine faith will be accompanied by works: “So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (2:17). James also connects faith and works a few verses later, while giving faith the causal priority: “You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works” (2:22). In this context, James shows that Abraham’s justification by faith (2:23; Gen 15:6) issued forth in good works, illustrated by his obedience in offering up Isaac many years later (2:21–22; Gen 22). In this connection, we may note that there is no dispute in doctrine between Paul and James on justification. Though there
have been differences among Reformed theologians on the particular exegetical details of Jas 2, many of them have effectively demonstrated the doctrinal concurrence of these two apostles. Any apparent disagreements between them (arising particularly from James’ statement that justification is “not by faith alone” in 2:24) are the result not of contradictory theologies, but of their intent to address different issues within the church and their different uses of the term “faith.” As J. Gresham Machen succinctly commented, “The faith that James is condemning is not the faith that Paul is commending.”100 Even mainstream biblical scholars, with no particular interest in defending the overarching doctrinal unity of Scripture, have recognized this point.101

Notes:
94 Paul’s phrase, me genoito, “strongly deprecates something suggested by a previous question or assertion” and “expresses the apostle’s abhorrence of an inference which he fears may be (falsely) drawn from his argument” (see Ernest De Witt Burton, Syntax of the Moods and Tenses in New Testament Greek, 3d ed. [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1900; Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1976], 79).

95 Calvin, Institutes, 3.11.1.

96 Turretin, Institutes, 2.693.

97 See, for example, Luther, “The Freedom of a Christian,” in Luther’s Works, vol. 31 (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1957), 333–77; Calvin, Institutes, 3.19.1–5.

98 Calvin, Institutes, 3.19.1.

99 Calvin, Institutes, 3.19.4–5.

100 J. Gresham Machen, The New Testament: An Introduction to its Literature and History
(Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1976), 238–39.

101 For example, Luke Timothy Johnson writes of Paul and James: “Despite the remarkable
points of resemblance, they appear not to be talking to each other by way of instruction or correction. Rather, they seem to be addressing concerns specific to each author.” See The Letter of James, AB, vol. 37a (New York: Doubleday, 1995), 64.

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